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TBT: Australia’s Poseidon Adventure

written by Robert Nutbrown | December 13, 2018

On Monday, Australia welcomed the first two Lockheed Martin F-35A to be based in this country. This week’s Throwback Thursday feature, from the January-February 2017 magazine edition of Australia Aviation, looks at the arrival of the first Royal Australian Air Force Boeing P-8A Poseidon in November 2016.

The Royal Australian Air Force’s first P-8A Poseidon flies down the St Vincent Gulf coastline near Adelaide in South Australia. (Defence)
The Royal Australian Air Force’s first P-8A Poseidon flies down the St Vincent Gulf coastline near Adelaide in South Australia. (Defence)

The first Boeing P-8A Poseidon for the Royal Australian Air Force has arrived at its new home with 11 Squadron at RAAF Base Edinburgh north of Adelaide, heralding a “giant leap forward” in maritime warfare capability, according to Chief of Air Force (CAF) Air Marshal Leo Davies.

And the P-8A is set to take over some of the AP-3C Orion’s duties as soon as the middle of 2017, ahead of the retirement at the end of 2019 of the ageing aircraft it is partially replacing.

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Speaking in Canberra on November 16 where P-8A A47-001 was presented to media after arriving in Australia on November 14 at the end of its delivery flight from Jacksonville, Florida, AIRMSHL Davies explained that there are many dimensions to the new aircraft.

“We are going to manage the waters that are around Australia, and work with our coalition partners and our international partners,” CAF said.

“It will be able to do intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; it will be able to do communications relay; it will be able to do radar detection for surface forces, and identification; it will be able to continue to do what the P-3 does in terms of search and rescue.”

The P-8A is equipped with advanced sensors and mission systems, including a multirole radar, high-definition cameras and an acoustic system that is said to boast four times the processing capacity of the AP-3C’s, as well as an extensive communications suite.

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To illustrate the magnitude of this leap forward in capability, AIRMSHL Davies declared that if the Orion is seen as akin to a walkie-talkie then the Poseidon is like the Internet of Things, seeking to realise mass device and information connectivity in the maritime environment.

“P-8 is certainly the future; it is the generational leap that we are going to make in the maritime domain,” he said. “It has greater range, it certainly has more connectivity; it has advanced acoustics, and it has a radar system that is world class.

“When we integrate this with Triton [unmanned aircraft systems] in the early 2020s, with the Air Warfare Destroyer, Future Frigate and both our submarine classes, we will have a fifth-generation maritime force.”

11SQN is introducing the P-8A into service, replacing the AP-3C Orion. (Defence)
11SQN is introducing the P-8A into service, replacing the AP-3C Orion. (Defence)

A47-001 is the first of 15 aircraft that the Australian government has committed to acquiring, with 12 P-8As already contracted under the AIR 7000 Phase 2 Maritime Patrol and Response Aircraft System project to be delivered by March 2020.

When questioned about his level of comfort with reaching initial operational capability (IOC) and final operational capability (FOC) milestones, CAF said the P-8A project is on track to achieve IOC at the time the AP-3C is retired in 2019.

A47-001 departs Canberra for RAAF Base Edinburgh on the final leg of its delivery flight. (Paul Sadler)
A47-001 departs Canberra for RAAF Base Edinburgh on the final leg of its delivery flight. (Paul Sadler)

Strong relationship

AIRMSHL Davies described the experience of attending the rollout ceremony for this first P-8A on September 27 in Seattle, Washington to accept the aircraft into service with the RAAF.

“You could feel how important this asset is to the Royal Australian Air Force, to Boeing and to the United States Navy,” he said.

“I did speak with many of the Boeing workers at the time. They have a passion; they know exactly every rivet, every part of this aircraft, and they put it together so that we can have a combat effect.

“We are going to need that same passion, that same commitment from the Navy, from the Royal Australian Air Force, from CASG [the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group] and from Boeing to be able to generate what this aeroplane is going to do.”

Speaking at the rollout ceremony in Seattle, AIRMSHL Davies had emphasised the close relationship between Australia and the US in the context of the P-8A cooperative program, for which the US Navy is the prime contractor.

“The acquisition and introduction into service of the P-8A has only served to strengthen our relationship,” CAF said at the time.

“The bilateral cooperative program approach for the P-8A between Australia and the United States has been very successful; it is now the model to which our other Air Force projects aspire.

“Working together with the USN to develop mission and system requirements for this aircraft, we have been able to create an advanced platform that will provide both a foundational capability and a growth path for the future decades.”

A47-001 about to touch down at Edinburgh at the end of its delivery flight from Jacksonville. (Defence)
A47-001 about to touch down at Edinburgh at the end of its delivery flight from Jacksonville. (Defence)

AIRMSHL Davies acknowledged the presence at the rollout ceremony of Australian P-8A aircrew and maintainers who have been embedded with the US Navy’s Patrol Squadron Thirty (VP‑30) and the Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training Unit Jacksonville in Florida since early 2015.

“Working side-by-side with their USN counterparts, this team has been part of an Australian instructor cadre that are supporting the training of another 220 RAAF personnel here in the United States, prior to our own training [system] being established in mid-2018,” he said.

“Speaking to the team here today, it is obvious that they have been the recipients of some of the best training in the world from the USN, and that this training has been delivered in a supportive and collegiate atmosphere.”

A47-001 taxis into Canberra’s Fairbairn Defence Establishment for a delivery ceremony featuring Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. (Paul Sadler)
A47-001 taxis into Canberra’s Fairbairn Defence Establishment for
a delivery ceremony featuring Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. (Paul Sadler)

Training focus

11 Squadron is tasked with introducing the P-8A into RAAF service. Its commanding officer, Wing Commander Dave Titheridge, explained that training at RAAF Base Edinburgh will initially concentrate on the support system for the P-8A.

“The guys have trained for seven months over at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, and they have trained in all the roles that the aircraft is equipped to do,” WGCDR Titheridge told media in Canberra.

“The focus of training when we get back to Edinburgh is going to be first of all the big support system that is required to support a complicated aircraft; that will probably be the biggest challenge, because the aircrew come back pretty qualified to start operations.

“And the introduction to service is very much based around getting the right logistics support, the right comms integration, that sort of stuff, over the next 18 months as the P-3, which is still very capable, gracefully reduces its level of operations and the P-8 starts to take over.”

The operational roles to be performed by the RAAF’s P-8As will be progressively expanded under an initial operational test and evaluation program.

“As soon as we get back we start what we are calling the operational test and evaluation phase where we test it in the Australian environment; test how maintenance works, how will our comms system work,” WGCDR Titheridge said.

“Some of that work will be done with the aircraft on the ground with all sorts of government agencies participating in that. And then the flying regime will start as well … the crawl, walk, run, which might be accelerated depending on what the government needs us to do.

“That will very much be focused on starting from the basic mission profiles and working up to the more advanced profiles, noting that the guys have seen all of the core roles during their training at VP-30 over in Florida.”

CO 11SQN WGCDR Dave Titheridge. (Paul Sadler)
CO 11SQN WGCDR Dave Titheridge. (Paul Sadler)

With A47-001’s arrival in Australia the RAAF also has two fully trained P-8A crews.

“Every six months we’ll be cycling another few crews through so the next couple of crews are getting ready to go in January,” WGCDR Titheridge said.

“P-3s in 11SQN are finishing their operations in the next week or two,” WGCDR Titheridge said of 11SQN’s transition from the AP-3C to the P-8A.

“Then the remaining crews on 11SQN will shift across to 10, 10SQN will become quite a big P-3 unit, and extra crews from 11SQN will go over to the States and start training on the P-8, and that process will continue over the next 12-18 months.”

Training of maintenance personnel has also been underway at Jacksonville, aligned with aircrew training.

“For every two aircrew crews there are two maintenance crews that are training at the same time so we’ve got that staged approach to being operationally capable in line with what government wants us to do over the next 18 months,” WGCDR Titheridge said.

Those maintenance crews will work on an aircraft that has a less maintenance-intensive airframe but more complex systems.

“This aircraft isn’t as intensive for the ‘black hander’ airframe trades, it’s not as labour intensive [as the P-3], but [it has a] complex mission system,” WGCDR Titheridge said.

“It’s still a new aircraft for the US Navy too so we’re learning rapidly about the avionics systems, so it will be a different paradigm with challenges early on but as we get more understanding of how the aircraft works it will definitely be less labour intensive.”

Another feature of the P-8 is the close government-to-government cooperative nature of the program, extending to the RAAF maintaining a common training curriculum with the US Navy.

“We will maintain the partnership, not just from an aircraft configuration and upgrade perspective but also from how we conduct operations,” WGCDR Titheridge said.

“One of the embryonic roles that the P-8 will take on, as the P-3 has done for a long time, is the search-and-rescue role; [there’s] a little bit of work to be done there, but we have a search-and-rescue store already ready to go on the aircraft, so that will probably be the only slight difference,” the CO of 11SQN said of the Australian requirement for the P-8A to be SAR-capable.

“That was a good test of the cooperative program and the relationship because the US Navy has now looked at it, and they did the flight clearances for it anyway, and they are interested in pursuing the same path, so they are looking at introducing it into their system.”

The next RAAF P-8A is anticipated to be delivered in March 2017.


VIDEO: The arrival of the first RAAF Boeing p-8A Poseidon in November 2016 from the Air Force’s YouTube channel.

Postscript:
This article originally appeared in the November 2018 magazine edition of Australian Aviation. To read more stories like this, subscribe here.

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